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The Resurgence of Global Travel: Key Insights

The world experienced a significant dip in tourism in the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, with 2022 seeing a major rebound. 2023 saw 1.29 billion tourists traveling internationally, only 170 million tourists shy of the 2019 figure of 1.46 billion; indicating that travel is well and truly on the road to match and even exceed pre-pandemic levels. Here are some key insights.

The vast majority of international tourist arrivals in 2023 (694 million, 54% of total tourists) were to Europe, with the most popular region being Southern Europe / Mediterranean. The next most popular region to travel to was Asia and the Pacific, which received 231 million tourists. Southeast Asia and North East Asia both received approximately 40% of total tourist arrivals in the wider region.

And what about other regions? How is tourism faring in other parts of the world? While Africa, Americas and Middle East don’t compare to Europe and Asia in terms of the magnitude of international tourist arrivals, all regions are similar in that there’s a U-shaped dip and recovery taking place.

Africa is on the cusp of returning to pre-pandemic tourist levels. In 2019, the continent received 66 million tourists. In 2023, 66.4 million visited, with 60% of the share visiting Sub-Saharan Africa and 40% visiting North Africa. The Americas are on a similar trajectory, receiving 219 million international tourists in 2019 and 198 million in 2023. The Middle East is the anomaly in that it’s already surpassed pre-pandemic tourist levels, having received 71 million tourist in 2019 and 87 million in 2023.

Asia and the Pacific perhaps has the greatest potential for tourism growth in the next few years. While it’s also undergoing a recovery trajectory in line with global trends, it’s 2023 international tourist arrivals were considerably lower than its 2019 equivalent. Asia and the Pacific’s 233 million international tourists still fall far below the 360 million who visited in 2019. Also while global tourism grew by 34% in 2023 (compared to the previous year), Asia and the Pacific’s tourism growth in 2023 stood at 155%, surpassing the Middle East (28%), Europe (17%), Americas (27%) and Africa (40%).

We can review the potential for regional tourism growth by examining internet user behaviour. In reviewing worldwide Google Trends data for the search term “travel to”, we can see that the top destinations of interest for Q1 2024 are India, UK, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, UAE and Spain. We can also look at TCI Research’s Net Sentiment Score, which crawls hundreds of millions of web social conversations in 150 countries and calculates a score based on the % of positive comments minus the % of negative comments. Global net travel sentiment in 2023, which measures the tonality of conversations towards travel and tourism overall, was 39%. In line with the potential for the tourism sector in Asia and the Pacific, net travel sentiment in the region exceeded the global figure, achieving a figure of 46% in 2023. Latest figures show that regional travel sentiment for Asia and the Pacific, which refers to the tonality of conversations related to the given region, is 52%.

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